March 31, 2008 – The Central Division will be tough again this year and with the division having no particularly weak sisters, but it is very possible that only one playoff team will emerge from the Central division in 2008. My reasoning is that the teams will face each other 18 times and that will takes its toll on the overall records and they beat up on each other. So how do I see the teams finishing this year? First let’s take a look at each team.
Chicago White Sox – Nick Swisher and Orlando Cabrera are some nice additions to an aging club. The starting pitching is questionable but if Danks and Floyd come through the starters could be tough. Jenks as a closer is top notch but Dotel whom the team acquired to set up has been terrible this spring. The Sox seem to have no plan and appear to be veering away from the solid defense that they wanted to get to a couple of years ago. I don’t see this team progressing as long as Ozzie Guillen manages this team.
Kansas City Royals – Everyone says this is a much better team than it has been in the past but then again that is not saying much. Having said that, I actually like this team, they are not ready to win a title but they are building a nice team around Gordon, Butler, DeJesus, Guillen, Teahen, Greinke and several others. They still need to improve at catcher, 2B, and in their pitching both in the starter role and in the pen. Meche is their only proven starter but Greinke can be very good if he gets his head back on straight and Bannister showed flashes of being a very nice starter. I don’t see what signing Tomko does for the team other than add someone that can throw some innings. Soria the closer looked good last year but the rest of the bullpen with the exception of Gobble could stand an upgrade. It will be interesting to see what Trey Hillman can do with this bunch, he never played in the major leagues but he has been a very good manager in Japan for a number of years.
Detroit Tigers – Maybe the best hitting team in baseball this year and they have Jim Leyland to lead them. After they acquired Cabrera and Willis from Florida this winter, most everyone has conceded the division title to Detroit in 2008. They are solid in every position but the broken finger that Granderson suffered will hurt the team in April. I see Granderson as a leader and sparkplug on this team and they need him back as quickly as possible. The weak link on this Tiger team is the bullpen where they miss Zumaya terribly and there is not guarantee when and if he will be back. Their old closer and former Twin Todd Jones gets the job done but it is seldom pretty. There used to be an old Baltimore closer, I forget his name and Earl Weaver his manager used to call him two pack so and so because Weaver would go through two packs of smokes in the ninth inning waiting for this pitcher to get the side out and the save.
The Cleveland Indians are picked by some to defend their Central title this year. From a hitting perspective this team is almost as good as Detroit and that is with Travis Hafner having an off season. If he comes back strong, this is a team that will be in the hunt all year long. You throw in a pitching staff led by CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona and the pitching is looking pretty good. The remaining starters are likely to be Jake Westbrook, Paul Bryd who is no spring chicken and throws slow and slower and Cliff Lee figures to come back after a disastrous season in 2007. Strangely enough, just like the Tigers, the Indians have a closer that never makes it looks easy but seems to get the job done in Joe Borowski.
Finally we get to Minnesota, at first blush it is easy to say that the Twins are in trouble, after all, they lost Johan Santana and Torii Hunter the two biggest stars on the team. But let’s not be so quick to give up on this team, they should be improved from a hitting perspective. I think Delmon Young will do as well as Hunter did although with fewer home runs. Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer should be expected to put up better numbers then they did last year. Harris is an improvement over what we had at 2B last year and the same can be said for 3B with Lamb. What appears to be a platoon at DH should be better with Kubel and Monroe but personally I would like to see Kubel earn that position outright. Gomez in center will be exciting to watch but you will need to be happy if he hits .265 and steals a bunch of bases. Everett is a glove guy but I think he will surprise a few people with his bat too. But can they pitch you say? That sir is the question; can the elderly Livan Hernandez still get guys out for 200 innings one more time? Can Liriano come back like he pitched in 2006? Can Boof can over the hump and throw 200 innings? Can Baker stand up to a full season on the mound? Is Slowey a young Radke? Time will tell but the Twins are counting very heavily on this bunch of starters. If the starters can be just half way decent, then the Twins bullpen and Nathan the closer will do their job and the Twins will be sitting pretty. Can they catch the ball? Not as well as they have in the past I’m afraid as they are weak at 2B and 3B. The outfielders all have great arms although Gomez may not always throw it where he wants to. All in all, I think the Twins will be an exciting team to watch.
So when we look at the final scoreboard standings in October, what will we see? I think it will look like this.
White Sox 76-86